Skeeter Davis
Dec. 30, 1931 - Sept. 19, 2004

Skeeter Davis was one of the pioneering female vocalists in country music. Long before there was Loretta, Dolly or Tammy, Skeeter Davis was blazing a trail for the female singers who would follow in her footsteps. Not only did Skeeter give us a career full of real country standards- she also gave us a handful of pop classics.

Skeeter Davis was born on a farm in Dry Ridge, Kentucky, the first of seven children in the family of Sarah and William Penick. In her early childhood she chose country music as her life's ambition, but the road to success was long and trying. She passed the first milestone in her quest the day she met Betty Jack Davis in a high school singing session. Thus was born "The Davis Sisters" duo.

After months of travel and public appearances, they were auditioned and signed to a recording contract by RCA Victor. Their first record was I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know. It was an overnight hit and was rated the top country song of 1953. Success for the Davis Sisters seemed just around the corner, but fate intervened. Their road to fame was tragically ended by the death of Betty Jack in a highway accident.

If Skeeter was to succeed, she finally realized, she would have to walk her path alone. After months of recuperation she made her first appearance as a soloist. Within a short time Skeeter had become one of 1957's top-ranking country singers. Two years later she reached another important objective when she became a regular member of the "Grand Ole Opry," home of most of the top performers in the country music industry.

During the 1960s, Skeeter was one of RCA's most successful country artists. She charted 38 country hits, 13 of which crossed over to the pop charts. Among these was what was to become her best-known song, the million-selling record "The End Of The World" which peaked at number two in both the U.S. country and pop charts in 1963, placing in the Top 10 for the year in both fields.

In 1973 Skeeter was suspended from performing on the Opry after she made a statement that did not sit well with the conservative Opry establishment. This was followed by a rousing rendition of "Amazing Grace." After a couple of years, due in part to the intercession of her friend Jean Shepard, Skeeter was put back on the Opry. Skeeter never received an apology for this intolerable treatment.

A new expanded edition of the album Let Me Get Close to You was released by Playback Records on May 19. This is one of the best-sounding Skeeter Davis CDs I have heard, and the bonus tracks are wonderful. This is the best Skeeter Davis CD currently in print. This release will have the original 12 songs plus 13 additional tracks. Here is the tracklist for this CD:

  • 1. Now I Lay Me Down To Weep
  • 2. Gonna Get Along Without You Now
  • 3. Didn't I
  • 4. My Sweet Loving Man
  • 5. I Can't Stay Mad At You
  • 6. My Happiness
  • 7. Let Me Get Close To You
  • 8. Another You
  • 9. Ladder Of Success
  • 10. He Says The Same Things To Me
  • 11. Ask Me
  • 12. Easy To Love (So Hard To Get)
  • 13. Don't Let Me Stand In Your Way
  • 14. La, La, La
  • 15. I Don't Want To Love You
  • 16. What Am I Gonna Do With You
  • 17. Sunglasses
  • 18. On and On and On
  • 19. The Face Of A Clown
  • 20. Now You're Gone
  • 21. It Was Only A Heart
  • 22. How Much Can A Lonely Heart Stand
  • 23. Somebody Else On Your Mind
  • 24. I'm Saving My Love
  • 25. The End of the World

    You may order this album now by clicking on the image to the right or the link above.

  • from NO DEPRESSION Magazine, Nov-Dec 2004 issue:

    SKEETER DAVIS, 1931-2004

    Skeeter Davis, circa 1959Near the end of Skeeter Davis' honest, sometimes unsettling 1993 autobiography, Bus Fare to Kentucky, she concludes that "without the valleys, I could not have enjoyed the mountains." True enough. She's journeyed through poverty, musical triumphs and stumbles, controversy, three marriages, and traumas capped by sixteen years battling the cancer that ended her life September 19 at age 72.

    Mary Frances Penick, born in a two-room cabin near Glencoe, Kentucky, in 1931, was the first of William and Punzie Penick's seven kids. Her grandfather, impressed by her energy, nicknamed her "Skeeter." Around 1947 the Penicks relocated to Covington, Kentucky, where she sang with high school classmate Betty Jack Davis. As the Davis Sisters, they gained momentum working at Detroit's WJR Barnyard Frolics in the early '50s.

    Their smart, assertive harmonies impressed RCA's Steve Sholes, who signed them in 1953. That summer, as their "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" headed to #1, a violent car crash left Betty Jack dead and Skeeter injured. Betty's conniving stage mother coerced Skeeter into performing with Betty's sister Georgia through 1956. Skeeter had to marry (briefly) to finally escape Mrs. Davis.

    Chet Atkins played guitar on nearly all the Davis Sisters' RCA sessions. By 1958 he ran RCA Nashville; suspecting Skeeter's voice had broader potential, he multitracked her vocals to echo the Davis Sisters sound. Amid such masterpieces as "Am I That Easy To Forget", however, were gimmicky "answer" hits such as "Lost To A Geisha Girl", a response to Hank Locklin's hit "Geisha Girl". She joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1959.


    The angst-heavy 1962 ballad "The End Of The World" finally gave her the massive pop country crossover success Atkins envisioned. A year later, "I Can't Stay Mad At You" did likewise. Though Davis had five singles earning Grammy nominations, Atkins didn't establish a musical consistency, resulting in a surfeit of grossly overproduced material. Her albums ran the gamut from gospel and pop standards to duets with Bobby Bare or Porter Wagoner to Flatt & Scruggs, Buddy Holly and Dolly Parton tributes. She fared better at RCA in the '70s when her ex-guitarist Ronny Light produced her.

    Her quirks (a home menagerie complete with pet ocelot) and personal trials earned her media attention. A 1959-64 marriage to egocentric WSM disc jockey Ralph Emery left bitterness that reverberated through their respective autobiographies. The uniquely tolerant, free-spirited Christian fundamentalism she practiced challenged Opry customs. She was among the few to warmly greet the Byrds during their tension-filled 1968 Opry appearance. In a 1973 Opry performance, she chided Nashville police for arresting street evangelists, earning her a 15-month suspension from the show.

    Davis left RCA around 1974 and subsequent records were spotty, with one exception: She Sings, They Play was a clever, stylish 1980s album with NRBQ, whose bassist, Joey Spampinato, she married in 1983. The Opry rift eventually healed. It became her primary performing outlet except for overseas tours, but her woes persisted; her parents' deaths sent her into a tailspin, and 1988 brought her first cancer diagnosis. She and Spampinato divorced in 1996.

    Skeeter Davis recorded some memorable music. More importantly, in an industry that rarely embraces - and often suppresses - the unconventional, her joyous eccentricity was refreshing in itself.

    -                               RICH KIENZLE


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